The only things that actually cure baldness, according to science

At some point, most of us are going to experience hair loss.

In the United States, roughly half of all men (and women, too) will start showing signs of baldness by their 40th birthday, according to the Cleveland Clinic

Even though modern folklore, and even some limited scientific studies, have suggested that the mother's side of the family is largely responsible for a genetic predisposition toward baldness, the truth is balding is not all our mothers' fault. In fact, doctors now say baldness patterns are inherited from a combination of many genes on both sides of the family. There are some environmental factors that come into play, too.

Scientists are starting to inch closer to finding a cure for the missing hair problem. But in the meantime, here are a few proven ways to prevent baldness, and help grow back lost hair.

Hair loss, also called alopecia, is most often hereditary — passed down from generation to generation.

But it can also be caused by environmental factors like poisoning, radiation, certain drugs, infections, hormone disorders, or nutrition deficiencies. Also, physical stressors like sudden weight loss or pregnancy, or other physical or emotional shocks, can lead to temporary hair loss.

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Len Glassman, a certified health nutritionist, trainer and owner of the Personal Best Training Center, offers up the necessary nutrients that will keep the hairs on your head there longer.

Image Credit: Getty Images

VITAMIN A

An adequate intake of vitamin A is key to helping promote the growth and health of cells and tissues throughout the body, including the hair and scalp. Vitamin A gets delivered to our bodies in two ways: from plant and animal sources. Hair healthy plant sources include red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables like carrots as well as some dark green leafy vegetables. Some heavy-hitter animal sources for vitamin A include liver, fish oil, eggs and fortified milk.

Image Credit: Corbis

VITAMIN B6, FOLIC ACID, VITAMIN B12

All three of these B vitamins are essential to the normal formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body, including the hair. Healthy and strong hair relies on a constant supply of blood and oxygen. A deficiency of these B vitamins is like cutting off the blood supply to your hair, leading to increased hair loss, damaged hair and slow re-growth. Best sources of vitamin B6 and B12 are protein-rich foods like meat, chicken, fish, eggs, pork and soybeans. Your best bet for sources of folic acid are leafy vegetables, orange juice, avocado, beets, broccoli, wheat germ and some fortified cereals.

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VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is essential to producing collagen, a connective tissue that gives structure by holding tissues in the body together, such as the tissue in hair. The human body is not able to store vitamin C for long periods of time, so don’t try to load up on it in an effort to make up for lost time; instead, make sure you eat plenty of foods containing vitamin C every day. The best sources of vitamin C are found in plant sources like oranges, berries, melons, peppers, dark green leafy vegetables and tomatoes.

Image Credit: Jupiterimages

ZINC

Dandruff and hair loss are both conditions associated with a zinc deficiency. Zinc is a mineral that promotes cell reproduction, tissue growth and repair. Zinc also functions in the maintenance of the oil-secreting glands attached to our hair follicles. Good sources of zinc include foods of animal origin, including seafood, poultry, mussels, shrimp and oysters. Eggs and milk also supply zinc but in smaller amounts. Whole-grain products, nuts, seeds and legumes contain zinc, but in a form that is less absorbable by the body.

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LEAN PROTEIN

Hair is primarily made of protein, so it makes sense to eat protein-rich foods if you’re trying to maintain healthy growth. Without adequate protein intake, the body cannot efficiently make new hair to replace the hair that has shed. However, eating a steak every day isn’t going to help you. High-fat diets result in increased testosterone levels, which have been linked to hair loss—so steaks are not among the foods that prevent hair loss. Stick to leaner proteins such as fish (which has a myriad of health benefits beyond just maintaining your hair), chicken, soy products, low-fat cheese, eggs, almonds, beans and yogurt.

Image Credit: Jupiterimages

WATER

Proper hydration is a key factor in healthy hair and in promoting good health. Every cell and every system in the body uses water to function properly, so don’t just wash your hair in it, drink lots of it. Other conditions that may contribute to poor nutrition and cause hair loss as a side effect include eating disorders such as anorexia. Anorexia can cause severe malnutrition and cause a high proportion of hair follicles to stop their growth cycle. Rapid weight loss is another reason for accelerated hair loss. Dropping weight too quickly and/or participating in a fad diet that is not nutritionally sound can cause imbalances in the body and result in increased hair loss.

Image Credit: Getty Images

RAISE GOOD HAIR

Our daily diet holds the key to the health of your hair. Every day we can make it a priority to choose the best kinds of foods for healthy, long-lasting hair, a healthy scalp and the growth of new strong hair. So the next time your stomach growls, reach for more “hair-raising,” and vitamin packed foods to keep those follicles happy.

Image Credit: Corbis

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The most common kind of hair loss is male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia). Doctors estimate this condition may affect up to 80% of white men by their 70th birthday.

This form of hair loss can also be associated with other medical conditions like coronary heart disease and prostate problems for men, as well as hormonal imbalances in women, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It affects more than half of all women, too, and is caused by the sex steroid hormone dihydrotestosterone.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Often in men, it’ll start at the temples or in the back of the head, at the top.

In women, it can show up first near the front of the head, or in a widening of the scalp line, where hair becomes thinner.

Other types of hair loss can be a result of scarring damage from hot combs, weaves, chemical relaxers, and hair dryers, so it's important to be gentle with your hair.

Hair loss won't usually feel like much when it’s happening. But sometimes it can be a warning sign of a larger health issue, especially if there’s scarring on the scalp. Women with hair loss who notice other changes in their bodies, like a drop in their voice or more acne, might want to get checked out by a doctor.

These can be warning signs of a serious condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. 

It’s actually a normal thing for hair to fall out. Hair starts its life with a long growing phase, and usually about 80% of our hair is in this phase at any given time. But other hairs are getting ready to leave our heads.

Photo: Getty

The other 20% of our hair is going through a transitional period, and then a resting phase, where it falls out.

Source:Cleveland Clinic

We normally shed about 50 to 100 hairs a day this way.

Source: Merck Manuals 

But after a fresh shampoo, that number can jump to around 250. That's okay, because we typically have have about 100,000 hairs on our heads at any given time.

The process of phasing out old hair typically takes around 3 to 5 months.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Normally, at the end, a new hair starts growing from the empty follicle but with alopecia, that doesn’t happen. The hair loss can be focal, and concentrated in one spot, or diffuse, and all over the head. Sometimes there’s scarring, because the hair follicle is being destroyed, and this may be a sign there’s a disorder present that should be investigated.

There are only a few proven ways that we know can treat baldness, but scientists are still searching for new cures. One of the first successful treatments was invented by this man. It's called Minoxidil.

But you may know it better by its brand name: Rogaine.

It's usually applied to the scalp with foam or a dropper, twice a day. It helps re-grow hair and prevent new hair loss, too. Rogaine makes the hair-growing phase last longer, and enlarges and matures thin hairs. But it doesn't work for everyone.

"Usually only 30 to 40% of patients experience significant hair growth,” the Merck Manual says. You may start seeing it work in about four months, but it can take up to eight to 12 months to really jumpstart hair growth. It also might irritate your scalp, cause more facial hair to appear, or trigger a rapid heart rate.

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Rogaine is a commitment: if you stop using it, any hair you’ve regrown could fall out, and you’ll go back to losing hair like you were before you started taking it.

The other proven option for men is the oral tablet finasteride, known by its brand name Propecia. The drug can stop hair loss and stimulate hair growth, but it has some side effects.

The drug blocks the effects of male hormones on the hair follicles, and is taken daily. 

Usually, patients can see it start working in 6 to 8 months, but it can also decrease sex drive, increase breast size, and contribute to erectile dysfunction, according to Merck Manuals. It's also dangerous for pregnant women to touch the crumbly pill powder.

Other supplements, pills, or miracle cure-promises won’t do anything for you.

While there’s some indication that a concoction of lavender oil, thyme, rosemary and cedar could be helpful, we still need more research to know for sure.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Scalp scientist (trichologist) Shirley McDonald recently told Business Insider that other cosmetic fixes like hair transplants are getting much better, and instead of looking like “doll’s hair," as they used to, they're getting quite convincing.

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Bruce Willis

REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

J.K. Simmons

(Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)

Stanley Tucci

REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo

Taye Diggs

REUTERS/Fred Prouser (UNITED STATES)

Jason Statham

(VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

Vin Diesel

(Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Dwayne Johnson

REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

Andre Agassi

(UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT TENNIS ENTERTAINMENT)

Common

 (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for The Blackhouse Foundation)

Kelly Slater

 (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Tags: SPORT)

 Cory Booker

 REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Pitbull

(UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

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McDonald said hairs are now put in individually by a surgeon or a robot. But gene therapies will be the next step, she says.

Until then, one other great way to treat baldness is to embrace it, and choose the shaved head look. Research suggests this strategy could score you some serious street cred: people tend to assess smooth-headed baldies as both stronger and taller than their hair-brained counterparts.

One 2012 study found that when people evaluated photos of the same men pictured with and without their hair, they saw the men as "nearly an inch taller and 13% stronger when pictured with shaved heads versus with hair." 

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